Four traditional games from around the world
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As people around the world tune into the Olympic Games, here are four indigenous games from around the world that you may not have heard about.

UNESCO has recognised Traditional Sports and Games (TSG) as an intangible cultural heritage, because traditional sports play an imminent role in defining a country’s culture and history. Traditional games can help us learn more about a community’s past and identity, as sport has always been a unifying force which brings together a diverse range of people.

The globalised nature of the sports culture today means that many traditional sports have lost their significance. As we celebrate the world of sports and games during the Olympics, we need to also realise the value of TSG and give them more importance.

  1. Genna – Ethiopia

Genna is a traditional game played during Christmas in rural Ethiopia. It is similar to modern-day field hockey. The origins of the game go back to the advent of Christianity in Ethiopia. According to an Ethiopian legend, shepherds first played Genna to commemorate the birth of Jesus. The word Genna is derived from the Greek word genos, meaning birth.

The game is played in a wide-open field with two goal posts placed at opposite sides of the field. It involves the use of curved wooden sticks and wooden balls. The opposing teams throw the wooden ball in the air and try to hit it with the sticks towards the goal post of the opposite team. Certain customs and rituals have also been incorporated in the course of the game – for example, enkurkuso is a ritual practiced before the game, which entails praying for personal wellbeing.  

  1. Kho-Kho – India

Kho-Kho is one of the oldest and most popular traditional games in India. It is considered a modified adaptation of run and chase, and involves chasing and touching a person. The game consists of two innings – each team gets seven minutes to chase and seven minutes to defend. The chasing team has to eliminate all the players of the defending team within the allotted time limit. The team with a higher score wins.

The earliest traces of the game can be dated back to the ancient times, when the game was played on raths or chariots and was known as Rathera. The most recent version of Kho-Kho was moulded by The Deccan Gymkhana Club of Pune, where the game was formalised by introducing a set of rules and regulations. Kho-Kho gained its first international recognition with the 1st Asian Kho-Kho Championship at Kolkata in 1996.

Kho-Kho today is widely enjoyed across South Asia as it nurtures team spirit, discipline, solidarity along with agility, physical and mental fitness. Though local Kho-Kho tournaments in South Asia indicate a strong influence of the game in the region, it is yet to gain importance as a professional sport in other regions.

  1. Cirit – Turkey

Cirit is an indigenous equestrian sport played which has been played in many parts of Turkey for centuries. Turks brought this game back from Central Asia while they were on their way to Anatolia in the 11th century. Horses were an essential and sacred part of the Turks’ lives in Central Asia, so they brought the horses as well as  horse riding games from there.

Cirit was a widely present martial sport in the Ottoman Empire from the 16th century onwards. It was used by armies as a practice to strengthen the cavalry defence and attack skills, and it also helped with pumping-up the cavalry’s enthusiasm during battles. In fact, sultans attributed great importance to Cirit for training armies, and some of the sultans were also  popular Cirit players.

Cirit’s presence has declined over the years, but it is still played as a spectator sport, especially in provinces of Turkey like Erzurum, Artvin, Kars and Babyburt.  The game is also played in Turkish villages on occasions such as weddings or holidays.  

  1. Peteca – Brazil

Peteca is an indigenous Brazilian game, believed to be as old as the country. It uses a ‘hand-shuttlecock,’ or Peteca, and the objective of the game is to hit the shuttlecock with one’s hand over a high net, to make the shuttlecock land inside the opponent’s side of the court, in a fashion similar to volleyball. The Peteca can only be hit once while on each side of the net.
Peteca grew in importance at the 1920 summer Olympics in Belgium when Brazilian athletes played Peteca during their breaks between games. This amused athletes from other countries who wanted to learn the rules of the game.

Petaca was originally a recreational game and there were no rules as such, but it was converted into a field sport in Belo Horizonte in the 1940s. In 1973, the game was recognised formally through the formation of Peteca Federation of Minas Gerais and, since then, Peteca has become one of the most common games in Brazil.

Embracing Diversity

The diversity in the traditional games across the world is indicative of its ability to foster intercultural communication and dialogue. There is a need to safeguard and promote traditional sports and games as they can be important sources of positive experiences for youth and children. However, the recognition needs to be distinguished from the professional sports so that TSG is not subjected to commercialisation and extreme competition and instead, acts as an alternative to classic sports.


Operating Team